My cancer survival story: ‘You are never quite the same after’
Ryan Summerlin July 30, 2014
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we count down the days to the 15th annual Incline Village Relay for Life, the Bonanza is featuring several stories from locals who survived the disease and are using it as a reason to give back to the community.
“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.”
Groucho Marx had something else in mind when he said this. But I’m blessed to be part of a group that can include anyone, no matter where they are in life. And I’m blessed to be a cancer survivor.
You never forget where you were when you hear those words “you’ve got cancer.” Like 9/11 or other major moments in your life, that is etched in your mind. For me, I was in the parking lot of the Truckee courthouse finishing some business.
A few weeks prior, my PSA spiked a bit higher and my doctor said I should have a biopsy of my prostate. Until then, a root canal was on the top of my “avoid list.” The doctor was calling me on my cellphone to let me know, rather mater of factly, that I did, in fact, have cancer.
It made me think of those times as a Police Chaplain where I had the harder job of telling someone that a loved one died. I hope that, in time, no one hears these words or that it will be as curable as the common cold.
There was irony in it all. In 2001, my wife, Denise, and I started the American Cancer Relay for Life in Incline Village, and pretty much did the whole thing along with the help of an American Cancer Society coordinator. It’s not that we’re so capable; it’s that we’re not great at delegating! Later, more people were recruited and the event flourished. We’ve been involved most years since, and generally I have been an emcee of the event.
I’ve been an investment adviser in Incline since 2001; my office is next to the Wildflower. We’ve been involved in The Village Church, Incliners, Lions, Rotary, Golf, Yacht Club, Trampers, and many other groups. I’ve been a host on Fox News Radio now for about 3 years and interviewed movie stars, senators, governors, presidential candidates and more.
When I heard the doctor’s “news,” I began a search for a treatment protocol I felt comfortable with. I do my homework. I spent many hours on the Internet checking various treatment options, survival statistics, and the usual things anyone would likely do in my situation, so I could feel somewhat in control. Cancer.org was my favorite website … the one maintained by the American Cancer Society.
I saw several surgeons. To a carpenter, the answer to everything is a hammer. Each surgeon recommended the type of surgery they were trained for. I looked at traditional surgery, robotic (which was new), seeds, radiation and others. There were fewer options then.
The da Vinci Robotic surgery was fairly new, but I decided to go in this direction as it was less invasive than traditional surgery, with quicker recovery and less blood loss. The first surgeon I talked to had only done 12 with this new technology. I searched until I found a surgeon with more experience.
The surgery was uneventful, at least for me, because they give you that medicine that makes you forget everything. I wonder what it felt like at the time? Never mind, I don’t want to know.
They removed my prostate. The cancer was encapsulated and no signs that it had jumped the fence. No need for radiation or chemo. My recovery was fast. I had to deal with some issues for about a year. You are never quite the same after. Nine years later, my PSA is still undetectable.
I tend to be a bit of a hypochondriac now and wonder, at times, about a little ache or pain. I stubbed my toe awhile ago on the way to the bathroom at night and as it throbbed, I wondered if I now had toe cancer. Most years, I ride my bicycle around the lake just to see if everything is working and how much Father Time has taken his toll. So far, so good.
I’ve talked with other men who have read my articles or heard of my situation, and have been able to help them. As the Bible says “to comfort others with the comfort with which you were comforted.”
So, the good news was it was diagnosed early, I had time to check out my treatment options, and my chance of survival was high. It wasn’t that many years ago that we didn’t have this diagnostic tool.
I liked it better when PSA was an airline. Prostate cancer has no symptoms in the early stages.
Don’t wait until something seems wrong … by then, it may be too late. Men, get regular PSA tests! They say all men will get prostate cancer if they live long enough!
The American Cancer Society has played a leading role in promoting PSA screenings (which saved my life), pap smears for women and so much more. I am proud that some 32 researchers (last time I checked) who received funding from ACS, have gone on to win the Nobel Prize for their efforts. That’s a great track record.
Please come to this year’s event at Preston Field, here in Incline Village. It starts on Friday, Aug. 8, at 5 p.m., with the Survivor Lap at 6 p.m., and ends on Saturday at 8 a.m. with a pancake breakfast.
Perhaps write the name of a loved one on a luminaria bag and add it to over 1,000 others that will line the track with lights as a glowing reminder of those who are fighting cancer even now, are cancer survivors, or who are being remembered. Walk a few laps or even all night if you wish. While solemn, it is a very fun event, too.
Come out, walk a lap to two. You don’t need to stay overnight. Join or create a team. Enjoy the many fun events and the entertainment. If you are a cancer survivor, come out and support others as we walk the first lap as a group. Survivors are a great source of encouragement for those battling cancer. You will get a free T-shirt and dinner.
One year a friend and Relay co-worker shared with me that as she had listened to my opening prayer at the Relay, she thought of her mother who had died and gave thanks that she had survived her own cancer battle.
Listening and looking at the glowing luminaria, she broke and tears flowed as the secret pain she had been holding so long came out. The event, unknown to me at the time, helped her come out of the closet and become a co-laborer in the event. It is so rewarding to know when you play a small part.
Your support and attendance can mean so much to all of us survivors, future survivors, and friends and family. Give us a call, Steve or Denise Ause, at 775-831-1963. We would be happy to answer any questions or talk with you about how you can help. To sign up as a Survivor or join a team, please go to www.RelayforLife.org/InclineVillageNV.
Let’s beat this thing. We need your help.
We lose too many to this dreaded disease. That has got to stop and it is up to us to play our part.
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